@Mark Pippenger

How It’s New York: Cathie Ryan lives on the East Coast now and we expect to see her often locally. The concert took place in a studio at Lincoln Center.
How It’s Irish:Cathie is an Irish-American singer, of Irish parents, and sings Irish music.

Cathie Ryan launched her much-awaited CD Through Wind & Rain last month, on a very cold day in October. The evening had a family feeling, and Cathie’s sweet voice filled the beautiful room with charm and grace.

A version of this article was first published in Irish Examiner USA, Oct. 16.

Irish-American singer Cathie Ryan launched her new CD Through Wind &Rain at the Clarke Studio Theater at Lincoln Center on Saturday, October 13, to an appreciative audience in an event that Cathie said was like “family night. I think I know everyone here.”
The handsome young man who introduced her, Cathie explained, was her son. The beautiful woman taking tickets was his wife. Cathie’s ex-husband, Dermot Henry, was in the audience.
“We’re a happy modern family,” the curly-haired singer said with a smile.
Cathie, a native of Detroit, was recently inducted into the new Michigan Irish American Hall of Fame in Michigan.
Cathie sang with the female Irish trad group Cherish the Ladies from 1987 to 1995, and is about to begin a small tour with them this week.
It was an intimate, special night of beautiful music. Cathie told stories, often smiling and saying “yes,” in her calm, somewhat breathy voice. 

She played bodhrán at times to accompany herself and often swayed to the rhythm of her knockout band, featuring Matt Mancuso on fiddle, Patsy O’Brien on guitar, and Brian Melick on percussion.

Cathie sang many of the songs from the new CD in concert, and the terrific acoustics of the venue set outstanding contributions of her band like precious stones in a ring, including Matt’s clear and often jazzy fiddle, Brian”s innovative and often slyly humorous percussion, that included bongos and triangles, and Patsy’s rhythmic and melodic guitar. 

Matt and Patsy’s album Road Work  came out this year, and it’s a keeper, full of interplay between trad and jazz on an Irish album. It has my all-time favorite version of “Rocky Road to Dublin” on it. Fiddler Andrew Finn Magill joined the band for a few tunes at the end; the young man has just moved to New York, and last year released Mau a Malawi: Stories of AIDS. 

The audience had not faced wild weather but some confusion to find the hidden gem of a space, on the seventh floor of the Rose building on Coloumbus and 65th. The little theatre featured a polished black floor with only a few rows of seats, with brilliant acoustics and clear visibility. I’ve never seen Irish music there before but agree with Cathie that it would be a great space to hear it from now on.

Through Wind &Rain is Cathie’s fifth album, and her first studio recording in seven years.
She produced this one herself, and, as we mentioned in our Q&A with Cathie back in June, it reflects her eight years in Dingle as well as her return to America last year.

The 11 tracks (12 with the bonus track) on the CD take the listener from upbeat reaction to heartbreak, to hearbreak, to gentle resignation and peace.The “bonus track” (in quotations because it’s on all of the CDs) is the humorous “The Johnny Be Fair Set,” in which a young girl is frustrated that she can’t get married because all of the boys turn out to be her father’s natural sons.

Through Wind &Rainis a beautiful and tender album. Much of it is a bit on the slow side, although it is true that, as she said in concert, she “revs up” the trad song “Go From My Window,” since the situation is a little urgent: a woman’s lover is at the window while her husband is in the bed.

During the first half of the evening, Cathie sang songs that had been requested through her website and through Facebook, opening with the lovely “Somewhere Along the Road,” the title track of her 2001 album. Cathie’s voice, if you’ve never heard it, has a warmth and a vibrato built into it, so that her ornaments seem integral to the melody. She has an unusual richness that accompanies her clarity. Apart from her gorgeous tones, Cathie also lives inside every song, giving each line its full emotional weight and sincerity. 

This makes a song like her “Daddy,” which she sang in the second half, a song from the point-of-view of a small child to a father who often comes home drunk, almost too hard to hear in public. Several people wiped their eyes surreptitiously when Cathie sang about how Mommy keeps crying and “maybe you could make her laugh sometime.”

She wrote the song, Cathie said, 20 years ago, but wasn’t ready to sing it until now.
Because, perhaps, it was a “family night,” family was much on Cathie’s mind on Saturday in her banter and introductions. She talked to the audience about finding her love of music from her parents, who both came from Tipperary, and about memorable summer visits to her grandparents.
Her paternal grandfather, she said, was a “myth of a man,” 6’7″ in hobnail boots, who loved to tell stories, beginning with stories about the people in the village, and finishing with scary stories about the puca and the banshee.
He used to give the children rides on his shoe while singing songs they called “dance the baby.”

Her most requested song, she said, was a song she wrote for her maternal grandmother, whose name Cathie shares.It was her grandmother, who played the fiddle and sang, as much as anyone else, who encouraged Cathie to become a musician.

Cathie said that “Grandma’s Song,” which she wrote for her grandmother after she had Alzheimer’s and no longer knew her, but recognized her after Cathie sang a song for her.

The song is a little hard to track down, as it is not on Cathie’s studio albums, but on a project called Mother made with Susan McKeown and Robin Spielberg which does not seem to be on iTunes, but is well worth the look.
Cathie sang much of the song accompanied only by herself on the bodhrán.

Cathie left the stage at one point to let Patsy O’Brien lead on his jazzy version of “The Maid with the Nut Brown Hair,” which has a funny riff on words that rhyme with “osie”: “after the showsie, me and Rosie…” etc.

Matt Mancuso

Matt Mancuso’s fiddling here was exceptional, with touches of humor along with the jazz stylings blending back and forth with trad.

Although many of the songs Cathie performed were serious, some of the best were sprightly, including “Carrick-a-rede,” also from Somewhere Along the Road, written by Cathie about the rope bridge to island of Carrick-a-rede, which she wrote when she went in search of the “happy Irish love song” genre.

“The Wishing Well,” which she co-wrote with Noel Lenaghan, thanks totheir finding each other on Facebook after years, is another; an upbeat little number about a woman who refuses to let a man’s disappointing behavior shatter her for very long. Noel, she said, had been smuggled in to Detroit from Belfast in a trunk by a sympathetic cop for many years to visit, and had always inspired her, but they lost touch – until Facebook happened.

“Beauty,” a song by Laura Smith about a woman finding her inner beauty, Cathie explained, was the song that like a coatrack she knew she could hang the rest of the album around.

Cathie’s version of “Fare Thee Well,” which she arranged with Patsy O’Brien, going back to archival recordings in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in West Virginia, where she and the band had been that morning, was haunting in its simplicity and loneliness.
Other versions of the song have been recorded by Bob Dylan, who recorded it as “Dink’s Song,” for the woman who sang it for John Lomax in 1908. Although the singer has been abandoned by a man across the river, Cathie’s “Fare thee well, my honey,” was full of love and yearning.

It was hard to tell where the traditional lyrics ended, and some of Cathie’s came in, and the song had a great fullness to it, only amplified by the sparseness of Patsy’s broken chord backups.

As she often does, Cathie sang her ex-husband’s composition “Slán abahile,” which means “safe home,” for an encore.
When she sings it, you feel she really means it.

“Safe home” to you as well, Cathie.

Gwen Orel
About the Author

The only New York journalist who writes for both the Forward and Irish Music Magazine.